Thursday, 1 September 2011

Why services provided by volunteers are not free

Recently I spent a couple of days out and about with our Youth Link Coordinators. I wanted to know first hand about their day to day work with volunteers and young people. I accompanied them to 'Team Around the Child' meetings of professionals involved with a young person and their parents; visits to young people with their parents to set up work with one of our volunteers and a meeting with a young person and their parents to review the time the volunteer had spent with them.

Children North East has three 'Youth Link' projects in Sedgefield, Tynedale and Blyth. The projects recruit and train young people as volunteers to mentor and befriend other young people in need who are generally referred by statutory services (schools, mental health, children's services etc.).

The Youth Link Coordinator visits young people who have been referred to explain what Youth Link is and discuss the things they would like help with from a volunteer. This meeting will usually be with the parents who must give consent to having a volunteer working with their daughter or son. Then the Coordinator 'matches' the young person to a volunteer taking account of interests, abilities and availability. Matching also means explaining the young person's needs to the volunteer and getting their agreement to the 'match'.

Next the Youth Link Coordinator, volunteer, young person and their parent(s) meet to introduce each other and agree how the work will take place - goals, meeting times and places, transport etc. Only then does the volunteer start to work with the young person.

Volunteers give a few hours a week so can only realistically work with one young person at a time. They also have a meeting with the Youth Link Coordinator about once a month to discuss how the work is going and draw on the Coordinator's knowledge, experience and insight to help the process along.

Sometimes other people are also involved with the young person or their family at the same time as the volunteer. When that happens those people will usually meet regularly in 'Team Around the Child' or 'Team Around the Family' meetings to coodinate what each is doing. The Youth Link Coordinators attend these meetings (which happen during normal office hours) on behalf of the volunteer (who usually is at work or college).

Youth Link Coordinators review the work between the young person and volunteer every few months and also at the end of the work. This is done to make sure progress is being made towards the goals the young person wants to achieve and that all involved are satisfied with the arrangements. The volunteer can learn from these reviews to discuss in private later with the Youth Link Coordinator, for example what sorts of young people they enjoy working with and what extra training would help them.

Currently there are 96 young people who are volunteers in our Youth Link projects. This is just a flavour of what the Youth Link Coordinator's do to ensure that the service the volunteers provide is effective and a beneficial experience for the young people, parents and volunteers. The Coordinators also recruit and train volunteers to an accredited standard and promote the service to potential referers. Each is a qualified youth worker and all are employed full-time.

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